Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tabloid Tories?

Sex, Affairs, Big Breasts, well that gets attention; could this be the way forward in political communication?

Iain Dale announces this morning that Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor, is to become the Conservatives' Director of Communications. He has a strong background in the media, but his involvement in politics could be seen as rather negative having presided over the Blunkett affair scoop described by more serious journalists as indefensible, and around whom many debates on privacy circulate following scoops on Princes Harry and William and the Beckhams. So one wonders what it is that he will offer the Conservatives.

Well he knows a thing or two about headline grabbing, but can a life in celebrity and controversy transfer over to politics? Well, Cameron clearly wants to have a celebrity status and image, and controversy clearly surrounds politics; but would Coulson know as easily how to suppress a story than defend it? He knows a thing or two about PR as well, but selling a newspaper that deals in the salacious is not the same as selling serious policies (read into that what you will). Moreover, as Dizzy notes, after the problems that Campbell as a tabloid journalist faced can Coulson do any better?

A lot of questions relate to this appointment. Will this mark a dramatic change in the Conservative Party's communication style, we shall see!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Paxman test

Despite asking why the Labour deputy candidates chose to do a Newsnight debate I still watched it, and I considered doing a complicated analysis of their performance. But instead I borrowed an idea from Where It Stands and tried to figure out where they sat in audience perceptions of them on three continua.
Firstly, and the real Paxman test, how relaxed where they. Jon Cruddas seemed incredibly laid back; Hazel Blears as Party Chairman quite uptight and defensive, but she did have to field awkward questions such as how to avoid the party leader being accused of selling honours for donations. Hilary Benn I thought came across as being quite nervous. The classic question, 'if you were not standing who would you vote for', only Cruddas dared answer: indicative?
In terms of who they seemed to be speaking to, most focused naturally on their electorate: the party. Cruddas, however, was most populist. He wanted to be just party leader not Deputy Prime Minister, possibly a message to the party, but wholeheartedly supported the party apologising for the Iraq War. Harman supported him and seemed to be courting the female vote in general. Blears and Peter Hain were party animals throughout, from my perception, and Alan Johnson seemed to have the role as Blair's standard bearer.

In terms of radicalism there was a lot of safety in their responses, the eyes seemed more towards what Gordon might think I felt. Only Jon Cruddas stood out in his appeal to the anti-Blair, anti-New Labour segment of both party and broader electorate.

Does this tell us anything about who will win, mmmm! It depends on what the party want from the deputy and what their thinking is. If they want a Blairite then it will be Johnson. If they want safety they have a lot of choice. But if it is a radical who may be able to mark a break with the past Cruddas emerged as that man with Harman a close second. But that all depends. Although about as scientific as the next man or woman's opinion, if perceptions count, and my readings and decodings match those of the Unionists and Labour members then I await the next poll with interest.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shovelware seems de rigeur

Just as US parties and candidates are embracing all communications technological, and Labour leadership hopefuls are experimenting with social media, it seems the Liberal Democrats are in retreat away from the Internet. Dizzy bemoans the death of another blog and I agree, but also note the lack of enthusiasm within the party to keep it going. Rob Fenwick, who runs the Liberal Democrat Voice, says in his post that he no longer has time but no-one else has come forward, so the e-presence is simply their website and the Lib Dem blogs network. The loss of 'the voice' is that central place where many news and views were collected and disseminated, so in terms of creating an online supporters' community this is a backwards step.

Similar negatives can be levelled at the Ming Campbell blog, started with little fanfare on Feb 10th 2006, but which is only really a blog in style. The entries are impersonal, slightly more attractive than press releases (they include videos etc) but seems to attract very little in the way of comments and does not offer dialogue to visitors. 'LibDem blogs' still collects various postings together but it is simply a database that takes visitors to the host blog. So it seems, despite the potential the Internet can offer to parties with limited funds that the LibDems are missing the same tricks as their larger counterparts, more shovelware anyone?

The e-campaign comes of age?

Candidates in the primaries and the parties themselves are increasingly utilising the Internet in their bid to win the US presidency, with the Democrats leading the race in building up a community around their social networking activities according to an article published today. The activity on their open threads does not suggest a party talking to voters, but evidence that there may be strong public engagement and cross-contributor horizontal dialogue; is this the e-public sphere that many academics of public discourse suggest the Internet can facilitate? Two observations here are very important, both made by John Durham the Internet strategist behind the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Firstly that a candidate going online "needs to cede a certain amount of control for a certain amount of visibility", and when "Every vote is going to be necessary... [the] undecided group of voters [must] be reached in non-mass ways". British counterparts need to take note of this, and the level of interactivity French presidential candidates engaged in; being online is not sufficient, but creating a real dialogue and so building relationships requires a degree of openness and interactivity. If positive and fresh perceptions of politicians is to be built online then it needs to adopt a different model of political communication than the simple repeat-remind, one-way push communication! While Howard Dean did not change the face of political communication in 2004; the forthcoming contest could see the candidate with the most interactive web presence win the primary and the election - it is possible!

Report 4 Benn?

As part of Hilary Benn's (deputy Labour leadership candidate) web presence he has a 'Webwatch' section. In arguing "For the first time ever, the Internet is going to have a significant influence on a major internal Labour Party election" and so asks site visitors: "If you're prepared to help be my eyes and ears on the web, please use the form below to direct me to sites and articles that are relevant to this campaign". Why?

Could it be:
a) a covert but novel way to collect the contact details of visitors;
b) to gain an overview of Benn-related web activity to rebut anything negative;
c) to gain an overview of Benn-related web activity to interact with those engaged with his campaign;
d) to find out what sites / issues are of interest to visitors to his site;
e) through interaction, to build a community of interest around himself.

There are perhaps other reasons but it could either be a way to begin a dialogue with an already engaged online community. or just a way to gain information; if the former there is potential for his campaign to move towards a more interactive dimension. Benn gives no clues as to the purpose, maybe he hasnt decided himself yet.

A very American election

It seems highly ironic that during a general election campaign Labour have continually refused to take part in a televised debate involving all party leaders but for a deputy leadership contest all are due to face Paxman in a Newnight special. Why ironic, well Labour membership figures last published indicated an all time low of 248,294, while union membership is lower that 30% of the working population but only 17 Unions (to find out which ones look here) out of a total of 213 Unions, though they are the largest they only represent around 2 million members, and of course the MPs, MEPs and Assembly members. So if we were to estimate that the maximum electorate for this contest is 2.5 million it is probably not far from the mark. So the rest of the population are expected to be excited by a contest, conducted in the US primary style, in which very few can participate. In the meantime Brown is still touring the country and Blair is on his farewell tour of the world.

Now all of this is fine if it were to engage with the public in some way, however the fact that neither 'tour' is gaining much media coverage, one has to question the purpose of either. Hence, there seems an element of truth in David Cameron's accusation that:

"There are urgent problems in our country, like the crisis in the NHS, that need to be sorted out now. Instead we have to put up with the farce of Labour's 'non-election campaign', with Gordon Brown wandering round the country with nothing to do and Tony Blair wandering around the world doing nothing but indulging his vanity."

There seems definitely to be a non-election campaign taking place, but one in which the general public is meant to get excited about given the extent of events designed to meet people, interact and engage; and one supposes by the end the public is supposed to have some attachment to Brown and his deputy. But it is questionable whether anyone is really interested; or why they should be in the end. Perhaps there should have been a general election after all, as the amount being spent on this non-election, by Labour and the tax payer, seems disproportionate and unprecedented within British politics (though it may well be 'the future for Britain' - sorry couldn't resist the pun). Maybe we should develop Stephen Coleman's argument and put the deputy candidates in the Big Brother house, at least the party could raise some revenue out of the phone calls.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Can 'SUS' be re-branded?

Political Marketing is about designing policies that the majority want and then selling them as of benefit to society, while this sounds simple in reality it is anything but. John Reid has announced that the Home Office is considering giving the police greater powers of stop and search, with a £5,000 fine for non-cooperation attached, in order to prevent terrorism. While simple to sell as a method of restricting the movement of suspected terrorism, it is harder to see how it would fulfill William Hague's criteria that police tactics would not "alienate the people we need in the fight against terrorism".

The huge problem here is that this harks back to 'SUS', and the practice of stopping of young black youths if there was 'reasonable suspicion'. This practice that was popularised throughout the 1980s led to a number of violent clashes, so called race riots, between black youths and the police. While many organisations focus on collecting evidence of the institutional racism that can be found in the way that the British police carry out their duties, and stop and search policing is often seen as an outward display of prejudice.

The problem with this new initiative is that it could clearly alienate many young Asians within Britain. As many media reports have noted, it is very simple to build an image of the suspected terrorist; normal looking, Asian, may carry a rucksack. How can the policy not alienate, particularly if there is any heavy-handedness, or worse mistakes such as the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. So how will such a policy be sold in a way that it will calm these rational concerns and encourage trust between the Asian community generally and the police? Can the police prevent more accusations of institutional racism? Or is this another policy that will further restrict liberty and freedom and be perceived by many as a direct attack on the freedoms of anyone who might be a Muslim? Selling policies is not like selling cornflakes, while you can rebrand a variety of household goods, the connotations attached to 'SUS' and the real concerns that will be raised will mean this idea could prove a very tough sell indeed.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A matter of perspective

A media furore has blown up, and all Labour deputy leadership contenders have joined in, all surrounding a statement by Margaret Hodge MP on the housing situation in Barking, East London. While being attacked for adding grist to the BNP [British National Party] mill, fuelling race hatred and being racist herself; she is widely quoted as stating the following: 'British families had a "legitimate sense of entitlement" over immigrants'. There are two ways of reading this, firstly that Ms Hodge believes that immigrants have no legitimate rights to housing; or there is a problem because this is a common and understandable attitude among her constituents given the context. The media, while highlighting the problems of immigration, an influx of Romanians to Slough being given a lot of both airtime and column inches in recent days, decide that for anyone else to voice these opinions is wrong and so by branding the statement as racist stifle any debate on the issue. On which note see Andrew O'Hagan's article, which seems to condemn Ms Hodge on the same basis that The Telegraph supported Michael Howard on exactly the same issue

The further problem here is that this offers an open goal to the BNP. If a spiral of silence is encouraged that prevents any negative comment being made about immigration policy the BNP are the only contenders for election who will voice the opinions of the people within these areas. A debate on these matters, allowing the voices of immigrants also to be heard, may have a positive impact on intercultural relations; silencing the issue allows discontent to brew under the surface and hence, perhaps, the BNP have won 11 council seats within Barking and Dagenham.

While this may sound like a pro-Conservative position, echoing the line 'it isn't racist to want to limit immigration', this is not party political. It is a question of representation, and if views are not represented in the public arena and not debated properly then they stay fixed and waiting for someone to use the prejudices for political purposes. If the media encourages some level of interaction between the communities there may be a greater understanding and even empathy encouraged; however the controversial story has currency it appears which is in danger of leaving the BNP to gain support through their use of cheap propaganda (see right). Rather than BBC's Question Time debating the rights and wrongs of Ms Hodges statement, the time may have been better spent discussing the issues which lie beneath; but this sadly does not seem to be consistent with the drive for an audience. A personal opinion, and yes a bit of a rant, but there is a serious problem here that needs addressing; and the media need to be very clear about what is racism and what is an issue that needs open discussion and the encouragement of understanding.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Can popular culture shape society?

The above scene from Disney animation Aladdin shows the hero defeating the evil Jafar; Aladdin is characterised as American, Jafar as Arabic, is this a parable for the clash of civilisations or simple a harmless remake of an ancient tale of heroes and villains? Michael Carmichael's article Propaganda and the Politics of Perception argues that not only does it reinforce anti-Arabic sentiments but that this movie would have had a profound influence on the attitudes towards Arabic peoples possessed by soldiers now serving in the Middle East. Using cultivation theory, Carmichael explains that the media encourage a pro-Western, Islamophobic mood to prevail within US and other western cultures that breeds distrust and discrimination. While not the first time that Disney has been accused of racism, Carmichael uncovers an interesting insight into the role of popular culture in shaping modern society.
I would suggest that this does not start or stop with the promotion of Islamophobic notions. Popular culture plays an increasingly important role in shaping perceptions of various groups within society. Think of the potential cumulative impact of programmes such as The Thick of It, My Dad's the Prime Minister, Spooks, Judge John Deed; all BBC programmes, but the BBC are not alone, that offer a view of politicians as stupid or manipulative. While all could be said to reflect a view of society, they also popularise that view so making popular culture an important tool of political communication. If you take the above clip from The Thick of It, filmed in fly on the wall style, what impression does it offer of the workings of government? Yes it is very funny, and I personally loved it, but can it also feel public cynicism and contribute to low public engagement in the same was a the characterisation of Jafar breed mistrust of people who appear Arabic? True, television, film, music etc can have a positive role; the cultivation of positive black role models like Floella Benjamin is testament to Children's television playing a social role, but whether that role is still being pursued as vigorously seems to be open to interpretation.

Why you can't google for a Mcjob

The idea of all publicity being good publicity, and providing a critical mass of people were aware of your brand you are alright, has gone. Google are trying to block the introduction of the verb 'to google' into the Oxford English Dictionary; the immediate reasons are unclear, however, as words become common parlance it is easy to see how it can take on a derogatory aspect. The famous case is that of McDonalds, as momentum gets behind their campaign for the removal of Mcjobs from the dictionary. As they try to sell exciting career prospects, the OED describes "An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector"; McDonalds has a range of supporters including MPs lobbying for the rewrite.

This could be a test case for copyright of a brand name, and something that is definitely in McDonalds favour. Urban Dictionary has a range of terms starting with 'Mc', many of which refer to the brand. The fact that anyone can post a definition, however, such as that for Mcretard or embellishments on the Mcjob theme, poses a huge problem. While the OED may buckle under pressure, the various user generated definitions will flourish and the term will maintain its currency among the masses.

Given that this is largely a pointless act, why are there supporters from across business and politics. Branding and the use of brand logos is a big issue for many. Using a logo can denote being sanctioned by the brand; equally any derogatory reference that includes the brands logo can create a generally negative perception of the brand. Politicians are possibly thinking that if McDonalds can win there can be restrictions on who does what with key brand referents. So would this be the death of negative advertisements referring to the Liebour Party, also could it force satire publishing websites such as Deadbrain to reconsider how realistic their spoofs appear (see below); furthermore could it prevent spoof stories from naming real politicians? Probably not but one can believe that restriction would be seen as a good thing among the higher echelons.

But the problem is that these brands cannot prevent the ideas gaining currency and phrases falling into common use. Whether the OED lists a word or not, I will still hear students saying they will google something, or that they need a Mcjob to tide them over, etc, until a new phrase comes into use. Politicians should perhaps think themselves lucky that to do a Mandelson (get caught acting improperly twice, but getting away with it) was never popularised; and just consider what the verbs to Prescott or Blunkett could be used for. They are forgetting the power of anonymised, user generated content that can go global at the click of a button, hence while officially things can be prevented, unofficially they cannot.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Almost believable?

TORY leader David Cameron is to spend two weeks living as a wheelie bin in East London in a bid to highlight the current crisis in British refuse collection... The wheelie bin exercise follows a busy period for Mr Cameron during which he has spent a week dressed as a football mascot, four days living on the Moon, three days working as a cod, a weekend as a lap dancer, and 40 seconds leading the Tory party.

For full story and much more read The Daily Mash

No room for principles

Voters who participated in the recent Welsh Assembly elections must be feeling a little confused right now. Labour have the most seats with 26, but all the rest combined have 34. Plaid Cymru, the second largest party, have emerged as the power brokers and are trying to form a coalition partnership. Talks have broken down with Labour, with Labour being accused of arrogance and having a 'luke-warm approach' to working with the Welsh Nationalists. Meanwhile a tripartite pact may be in the pipeline,with Conservatives and Liberal Democrats linking up with Plaid Cymru to take power. The problem here is that some within Plaid Cymru see working with the Conservatives as an abandonment of their principles. The big question is how desperate for power are Plaid Cymru, and do they agree with Liberal Democrat spokesman Mike German who claims: "we are all focused on a single outcome, I hope we can hammer out the remaining issues both on what we will do together, and how we will achieve it, in order to put forward a plan to each of our parties to consider... Each of us is committed to giving Wales a fresh start". More importantly will supporters of any of the parties support a coalition, and will they feel just a little betrayed if parties they perceive as diametrically opposed suddenly find they can work together in the name of seizing a place in the cabinet?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In with the new, but watch out for the old

Blair's first years as Labour leader were often about the burial of sacred cows, the rejection of shibboleths of the Labour Party, often symbolic notions rather than policy determinants, in order to clearly delineate New Labour from the party that had gone before. The whole notion of New Labour was predicated on the idea of creating a modern party in touch with modern society.
Cameron's mission for the Conservative party seems the same. At times he seems to have dared the traditionalists to rebel, such as promoting same sex marriages in his first conference speech as leader. However, largely the outward promotion of all things new has been in terms of style, logo and the shift towards environmentalism. However his attack on grammar schools as an idea seems to have become Cameron's clause 4. He argues it to be a principle not a policy, he virtually accused adherents of living in fantasy land and today he took his attack a step further. Talking on BBC Radio 4, he argued that sections of the party were: "clinging on to outdated mantras that bear no relation to the reality of life". "I'm determined to do what's right for my party and the country" he declared, and in declaring his position as leader: "I lead. I don't follow my party; I lead them." Strong stuff indeed, and as Nick Robinson notes goes to heart of a problem for the Conservative Party, who is it they represent and what advantages are they seeking by voting Conservative.

But a problem looms for Cameron. As with Blair many in the party may follow him as he promises an election victory, and if he can deliver that there will be a degree of acquiescence. But if the party moves too far from the principles members hold dear then he can expect rebellions. In discussing the process by which parties build themselves as an electable package, Jennifer Lees-Marshment argues an important stage is adjusting the policy package to suit internal opinion; Blair failed to do this and largely ran roughshod over party member's opinion if they did match the New Labour template of ideas. Cameron may do the same, and if he wins the next election, but without the thumping majority Blair gained in 1997 and 2001, will the party stay with him all the way? It is a big question, and thus selling changes as 'its what the people want, so trust me and I'll get you elected' is a highly risky strategy in the long term.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Giving the wrong impression?

It is understandable that every Labour MP, MEP, councillor, activist, member and supporter will have severe concerns that the party will lose the next General Election, and that much hangs on what Gordon Brown and the new deputy leader do over a maximum of 30 months. That said it is equally understandable that the main issue that the contenders (pictured) for deputy talk about the election, in particualrly arguing why they are the right person to bring all factions and strands of thinking within the party together and reconnect with the electorate.

But is this the wrong message to use to establish a reconnection. Voters are familiar with all the contenders, to some extent at least, but may not know much about them. The lack of baggage is an opportunity for them to position themselves as the new part of the package that will lead the government. On the this basis talking purely about the election and not their vision for government may offer the wrong impression: "all they are after is an election victory so which of them would make the best salesman" could be the first thought. Sadly, despite other issues beign raised by the contenders, they prioritise how they can help Labour win again and the media focus on that part of their message, so the ordinary voters may form a negative perception of the new deputy from day one!

The professional online campaign?

The Conservatives are seeking to replace their web guru, or as they call him 'Digital Development Manager'. The tasks and skills required offer an interesting insight into the function of the various parts of the Conservative party's online presence and into how political campaigning is to be conducted; they are seeking an individual who will be tasked as follows:–

  • Growing the user base of the Party’s three main websites:, Webcameron and SortIt.
  • Online PR and marketing - to include SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) optimisation, PPC (Pay Per Click) and email marketing.
  • Possess a broad understanding web analytics packages.
  • Developing new channels of digital content across mobile networks.
  • Developing sustainable revenue streams across our digital portfolio.
  • Organise regional events and activities to promote our websites.
  • Distribution of email virals and online campaigns.
  • Developing relationships with digital content producers and multimedia agencies for ongoing web campaigns.

What does this indicate? The priority is to draw traffic to the Conservative sites, monitor visitors, collect information and build a database among which to distribute viral emails. I guess it depends upon the person they hire, however, what is not mentioned is building relationships with visitors, just collecting contact details and subsequently spamming them. A second strand of their activity is making money, through pay per click advertising and perhaps attracting donations. This is already a feature of the 'get involved' page;which also asks visitors to spread the word by email or by insertign a link from their website (as above)

This is the new campaign professionalism that is shifting to the online environment; compared to the Sarkozy online campaign it is simplistic and old fashioned one has to say, however it may look different if the right person gets the job, but party think is strictly looking to the US example and not France.

Friday, May 18, 2007

New Leader, New PR?

Charlie Whelan, Brown's ex-spin doctor, now keeps up an interesting column in PR Week. Last week Whelan talked of how Blair changed the rules for political PR. The key innovations being media monitoring and image management; the lack of openness Whelan argues gave Labour the moniker of 'party of spin'.

This week, Whelan speculates on how Brown will use the modern tools of political PR. He makes the interesting point that presentation gaffes are a good way for Brown to differentiate himself from the polished style of Blair; such as hiding behind the autocue (pictured). So perhaps a middle road between Blair and Prescott is appropriate? But key for Whelan will be the feminisation of his communication strategy. While Damian McBride will no doubt be his official spokesperson, in the background the influential advisers will be Sue Nye, currently his political secretary and wife of BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies, but also Sarah his wife. As former head of Hobsbawm Macauley she is no stranger to giving image advice.

Whelan's bottom line is that this will provide the 'butch' Gordon with a softer side, one that shows compassion, and will appeal more to the female voter. While PR will remain central, Whelan's observations suggest the PR should be less obvious and may focus more on performance character than message control.

Meanwhile, Blair hints at his future role: envoy for the traditional English cup of tea -you read it here first (unless you read the BBC News site as well of course)

The end for Webcameron?

Sam Roake is the man who advised the Conservatives on their web presence and is the driving force behind Webcameron and at times acted as the camera man. However Recess Monkey writes that he has left the party due allegedly to the frustration that the Cameron messages are gaining no currency among the electorate and that his efforts on Webcameron are largely going to waste.

His problem, partially, is that the spoofs of the Conservatives get all the hits, such as the following which mocks the Sian Simon appearance where he claimed that Conservatives were 'just like you'.

Why is Webcameron failing, particularly when the French presidential candidates were so successful? Loic le Meur talked of Sarkozy interacting, answering questions, physically participating in second life, take the debate on Cameron's forum that questions whether sustainable development is possible without economic reform, there are 16 statements and questions, none from Cameron. Essentially he is a lurker in his own blog, posting only, he may as well produce a pamphlet as there is no interaction going on. Visitors can watch 'totalwit' in his spoof video, comment on it, and get something out of it; if the politician does not interact there is no function in contributing to their sites, hence the videos are not watched by a critical mass, the messages are not recalled and the time and effort spent on building Webcameron is wasted.

The special relationship

The press conference yesterday where George W. Bush commented on his relationship with Tony Blair through up some interesting comments according to the BBC website. The part that seems of interest to the author was Bush saying he might be responsible for Blair's departure, though he had not polled Labour members, the odd aspect is as follows.

"He [Bush] said he hoped to help Mr Brown in office, the way he had been helped by Mr Blair when he was first elected". Well he was not president when Blair was first elected so that does not strictly makes sense; but then:
He added, for now, he would continue to work with Mr Blair.

"My attitude is this. This man here [Mr Blair] is the prime minister and we've got a lot of work to do until he finishes. He's gonna sprint to the wire you know, he's gonna finish the job people want him to do, and I'm gonna work with him to do it. "

One wonders exactly how he can help Blair with the domestic agenda that he has pushed at elections; perhaps best ignored as another Bush-ism!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Plus ca change or spot the difference

Gordon Brown has, as really was expected, become Labour Party leader and so Prime Minister without a contest. His acceptance speech, the main points of which are illustrated using the soundbites extracted for his website, indicates in some ways a new direction but essentially a continuation of the New Labour mission. With the below photo, he states:

I am truly humbled that so many of my colleagues have nominated me for the leadership of the Labour Party and I formally accept the nomination, the responsibility it brings, and the opportunity to serve the people of Britain. I will strive to earn your trust. To earn your trust in our schools, in our hospitals, in our public services, and to respond to your concerns. To earn your trust in our schools, in our hospitals, in our public services, and to respond to your concerns. And by listening and learning, I want to become a voice for communities far beyond Westminster, to become a voice for the parent, the patient and the public, whom public services must exist to serve.

As a contrast, compare these words to the following:

It is an honour to lead this Party. I accept it with humility, with excitement and with a profound sense of the responsibility upon me. You have put your trust in me and I vow to you I shall repay that trust with unstinting service and dedication to our Party and our country... The task of national renewal is to provide opportunity and security in this world of change... On the economy, we replace the choice between the crude freemarket and the command economy with a new partnership between Government and industry, workers and managers... On education, that we do provide choice and demand standards from the teachers and schools, but run our education system so that all children get that choice and those standards, not just the privileged few... On welfare, that we do not want people living in dependency on state handouts, but will create a modern welfare system that has people at work not on benefit... There is much to be done, but much has been done. It was done by individuals of will and principle, working together for change.

This is Blair's acceptance speech, delivered almost thirteen years ago on 21 July 1994, the priorities are the same but trust is not the key issue but features, as does the humility interestingly Blair also talked of socialist values. So essentially more of the same but more listening perhaps? It seems there are key phrases that belong in the modern leadership acceptance speech, and if this was not sufficiently evidenced by the above how about these lines:

It's a huge privilege and honour and a great responsibility to take on this job. I will do it with everything I have to the best of my ability for my party and my country... this country faces huge challenges... The challenge of economic competitiveness... reform our public services... the quality of life... having social action to ensure social justice, and a stronger society... At the heart of what I believe are two simple principles, trusting people, and sharing responsibility

This was David Cameron on accepting the Conservative leadership, he follows the same rules it seems!

Was it social media that won it for Sarko?

A brief piece on For Immediate Release discusses the role of Loic le Meur in developing the web presence of Nicolas Sarkozy and getting him to interact online. Explaining his role on his blog, le Meur describes the interactive element as follows:

"I finally joined the Sarkozy campaign as one of Internet advisers and took care about the conversation. That means anywhere on web, in a decentralized way. Based on the previous debates experience, I thought I should start by finding a way to sort the questions and launched a digg-like for Sarkozy, debat-sarkozy, people could ask their question, then vote for the most important one, and Nicolas Sarkozy committed to answer the questions: 1500 questions were answered and more than 8000 comments appeared on the site, a good start... We started having a very close relationship with bloggers from all political areas of society, invited them to the campaign headquarters every week to meet a political figure, about a thousand bloggers showed support to Sarkozy, many others who would not vote for him were still happy to be in touch with us, and by the dialog that was created"

And it was not simply a process of interacting with the online community through formulating answers to the most popular questions:

"[le Meur] also launched an island in Second Life, l'ile Sarkozy, which has been an amazing experience. The island has been managed by voluntaries who created the buildings and monitored it 24 hours a day, more than 400 avatars joined a Sarkozy group and many became residents of the island. We survived attacks from opponents which were interesting to see, bumbs, naked people, insults, mines dropped, weapons, demonstrations.... The island has been packed during the entire campaign, reaching the SL max avatars limit most of the time [see screenshot below]. The most interesting for me was when we started streaming the debates at the real headquarters in the virtual headquarter on SL and had lots of interactivity, we took questions from SL and had the political figure answer them. The conversation and bridge between the virtual and the real life was fascinating"

There was a downside for le Meur getting involved, he had to start moderating comments to his blog, but this is also a measure of the level of engagement across the online community. As Sallie Goetsch agreed, this could be 'a harbinger of what is coming in political communication' as 'blogging and politics go well together as people have strong views'. The online environment provides a variety of ways for the political candidate and electorate to form connections; but it must have the interactive element. There must be a connection between equals not the traditional top-down from politician down to voter approach that seems most common and is simply a transference of techniques used for old media to new media. Many lessons can be learned from the French presidential elections, possibly this is an indication of the shape and style of things to come.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You cant get too much PR

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations [CIPR] has delivered a robust response to recent media commentary that has criticised the increase in the number of press officers working within government departments. The press release argues "large government departments need specialist and skilled communicators to help explain their policies" this is in response to "public demand for information and the number and range of communication channels"; true! However he latter part of their response seems on somewhat shakier ground. Civil servants must be seen to be impartial, that is an ideal certainly, and true the CIPR has supported moves to strip the Special Advisors [SpAds], such as Alistair Campbell, of the power to instruct civil servants on how and what to communicate. But the claim that this such developments have enshrined the impartiality of the civil service and the assumption that the appointment of more communication SpAds will reduce the pressure on the civil service seems highly dubious.

The majority of SpAds become temporary civil servants, as heads of communication, or at least communication advisors, they act as a conduit through which information produced by civil servants passes on route to the media and so the public. This process, which politicises all communication, means that civil servants become automatically implicated in the government spin cycle. Equally, as the SpAds are not always on the front line, and civil servants have turns of duty in manning the phones and answering queries, they must repeat the line given by the SpAd and so impartiality fails. While this is a complex problem that would be difficult to solve, and one that has evolved over several decades, the only real solution is for information to be released,with no spin whatsoever, by civil servants, and the only role for the SpAds would be to advise their minister. But this does not and cannot happen. Any ministerial statement is contested in the media, a response is developed by the SpAd, and then all communication must include the party political rebuttal. Hence more SpAds will probably mean more spin and a greater problem for civil servants keen to maintain impartiality but who de facto if not de jure end up working alongside a SpAd. Perhaps the CIPR should think again and get a real handle on the workings of the government communication machine.

The state of education

One could make much political capital and have great fun with the following blog post, made by David Cameron after spending two days at the front line of a Hull secondary school.

"The day starts badly, for me at least... Helping register a class of 13-year-olds, no-one - and I mean literally no one - has even heard of the Conservative Party. Using "hangman" on the interactive whiteboard they get to "Conser_ati_e party" - with one girl guessing at "Conservation" - before anyone gets it"

But surely this reflects perhaps more on the standard of secondary school education. While there are many factors that influence political engagement; political knowledge, familiarity with the system and its rules and the key player, are as key as the type of communication used. While many resort to social media, the first step to encourage youth engagement seems to be to not create the site but offer the basic knowledge about the parties so the future voters can visit if they wish to. Citizenship is now supposed to be part of the curriculum but it is not widespread and remains somewhat nebulous in content. How to vote is covered but not the history of the parties as that would be party political; but how else can the young learn? One of the key gripes many students have on encountering politics at University is that they lack the basics and do not really understand how 'it all works', surely this is a problem, no?

The politics of nationalism

As Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond is named as first minister of the Scottish Assembly, Conservative party leader David Cameron makes a call for MPs elected by constituencies in England to have the sole preserve over voting on issues that effect England and so ensuring that Scottish MPs do not have undue influence over other members of the UK. There are various debates on the effects upon the union, and of course the role of Westminster and whether it would be perceived as an English parliament; however there is an additional interesting factor here. Imagine that this is passed, while also Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister. As MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath he would set out policy for the whole of the UK but on aspects that related simply to England; so education, crime, the judiciary, he would be unable to vote. I wonder if Mr Cameron thought of this when making this call?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Roll up. Roll up.

BBC political correspondent Nick Assinder writes today that the Labour leadership election website is marking the occasion of the new Labour leader and prime minister in a special way. Telling members that "Never before has the membership of any political party had such a responsibility for shaping the future of British politics, nor such a responsibility to the people of Britain, and the history of our movement. It is an honour and a privilege," Presumably this is the fact that normally the party does not choose the prime minister while in office; obviously someone has not followed their history too well as the Conservatives did the same in 1990, oh yes and Labour in 1976, but hey who cares about historical accuracy.

However we can also all buy a delightful range of 'collectibles' such as a mug, or a badge to celebrate the occasion. As Nick points out it is one way of earning money, but he also notes that this may well be devaluing and trivialising the contest, making party websites a similar to those wonderful shops that sell tat to tourists. Particularly if one considers the parallel promotional campaigns run by the contenders for deputy; "Nuts for Hazel" T shirts (Hazel Blears) are a must I think.

As a debate runs on party funding perhaps one question all of this, or decide as Nick Assinder concludes 'why not'. Maybe getting a bit of fandom attached to the contest will promote engagement, maybe it will earn money so the taxpayer does not subsidise campaigning, even better maybe it can avoid dubious deals that we now associate with the term 'cash for honours'. And maybe it would be good to see people at the next election sporting T-shirts with witty slogans that promote voting for Brown, Cameron or Campbell - any suggestions for the slogans?

When elections matter too much

I have heard many stories of rivalry at elections. Outside polling booths it is common for party workers to take names of voters so they can cross them off their lists of people to 'knock-up' later, it also helps them gauge how many of their voters have turned out; well they will pinch each other's chairs, they have on occasions got into fights and been removed by the police. Yes, in Britain there still are reasons to fight over electoral politics.

The Filipino elections, however, take this to a more disturbing level. Militias are active in the campaign, voting papers are snatched and fighting between rival factions have lead to a number of deaths. Polling day (14th May) was described as 'relatively peaceful' despite a number of deaths and woundings; while it would be nice to think that the level of political involvement in the UK would be high enough for people to fight for democracy, perhaps it is better to have signs of apathetic contentment! Democracy cannot operate in a state of fear.

Lets have some interaction then!

I have been monitoring Gordon Brown's campaign website based on my initial hopes that here was something different, something that demonstrated the listening and learning philosophy Brown has committed himself to; but I'm not really finding any indicators of real interaction.

The blog, run by Oona King (right) is a central feature and seems to get a lot of traffic. Following Brown's announcement on housing and the building of eco-towns, Oona extolled the virtues of the policy and received 29 comments in about 24 hours. The majority are serious questions that should rightly be posed. But there are no answers. Even following the post on the campaign launch, which received 51 comments, there are no comments, not even a thank you to the majority who offer their support. The only positive is that there seems to be no censorship as alongside the congratulatory is a description of Brown as a 'one man disaster area'.

But the site seems to fail to show responsiveness. Brown may well be listening and learning, but this is only demonstrated through responding. Failing to do this gives the impression that the 'so much to learn' line is rhetorical and designed to give an impression of responsiveness but containing no real substance.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The vicious cycle

Nicholas Jones has long been a critic of the extent to which political communication has become coloured by spin. His work on the birth of spin culture through to an expose of the control freaks within No. 10 Downing Street is underlined today in an article which characterises the Blair years as "a decade of squalid and politically corrupt spin" which has created "a generation of political journalists who have acquired the freedom to embellish quotations and use them to help manufacture their own exclusive story lines". Hence, Jones explains, the Campbellisation of the flow of information from state to public has placed the SpAds (Special Advisers [or signals passed at danger in railway speak]) in a position of absolute power as traders of exclusive information.

The contrast sharply with the intended role of the Special Advisors, Professor Karen Yeung explains that they were created to be an adjunct between the government, including the civil service, and the party in power. Instead of politicising the civil servants, something Thatcher has often been accused of, people such as Jo Moore should be responsible for presenting party political information while the civil service stick to impartial information provision. What Blair has achieved, and perhaps it should be Blair-isation rather than Campbellisation, is to place the Special Advisors as the key informers of public. media and civil service it would seem. They dominate all information flowing within and between departments and from departments out to the broader community.

Jones looks to the unfettered, unregulated world that is the Internet to solve the problem as it offers "an ideal opportunity to match the pioneering work of Clem Attlee in promoting... the people's conscious and active participation in public affairs"; blogging and commenting basically. But to facilitate this, Jones hints, government must present information also via the blogosphere. Each department could, if the impetus was there, release the day's achievements in a simple and accessible format. Not the 5,000 page pdf file with clauses and appendices, also not the carefully worded, possibly sexed-up, policy statement. But a list of we did this, this is why, this is how it will impact on the lives of citizens. The problem is that this will never happen. We all spin, but parties feel they have to as if they do not then the door is open to opponents in Westminster, in the media and beyond. Hence there is a vicious cycle at work: parties spin, media critiques, public disengages with a shrug - there is a better way but it seems highly doubtful that anyone would have the guts to be just plain honest independent of how much they seek to do what the electorate wants or how much voters call for the end of spin in political communication.

Projecting the wrong image

Gordon Brown yesterday participated in the first of a series of debates between himself and fellow contenders for the Labour Party leadership. While these are not televised in total, the parts the media have chosen to show offer a very poor perception of Gordon Brown and, if this is representative of his demeanour throughout the debate, could signal a flaw in his self-rebranding process. When Meacher and McDonnell were stating their case Brown looked at best indifferent at worst bored. His responses were dismissive of his left wing colleagues, despite them representing views that have support within the party. Worse he seemed unwilling to engage on the issues, instead insisted on pushing his own agenda and policies dismissing alternatives out of hand.

The problem is that this contrasts sharply with the stress Brown placed upon 'listening' when launching his campaign. If one watches his Youtube video (below), one sees him listening and interacting with voters:
But this does not get coverage on the mainstream media, if more airtime is given to the debates, and hence the public see him not listening, thus perceive him as self-obsessed and insistent that he is right, the rebrand will not be successful. While he may make the distinction between listening to the public and listening to the party left, the audience may not; perceptions are important and the media has the power to shape perceptions, hence what the BBC/ITV or Sky say and show could be far more important than the carefully crafted Youtube performance.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Good advice on using ICT

It is common to view the US and Northern Europe ahead in their professionalism when approaching election campaigning. However while political communication can appear professionalism, the thinking that goes on behind the scenes can often be questioned. In the UK parties often seem to act like magpies, stealing all that looks shiny from commercial organisations but without considering how appropriate corporate communication tools and styles are for politics. Hence it is interesting to see comments from elsewhere in the world that show strategy is being far better thought through than it appears that it is here.

Later this year Kenya is to witness a general election, and for the first time it is suggested that ICT is to play a key role. Presidential candidates are trying to mirror the success of their US counterparts in trying to both gain funding as well as support by turning to the Internet. In an article by Kairu Kamuri in Kenya's The Standard presidential hopefuls are advised:

Those who will be using these tools must also not forget to pick on those that will serve them well. The best consideration should be based on factors such as cost, the area to be covered and ability to reach out to the anticipated people. It would be unnecessary, for example, for a councillor in a remote part of the country to campaign using the Internet and sit back pretty hoping to win the election. In the same vein, no serious parliamentary aspirant presenting himself or herself for this year’s election does not have a website to sell his or her ideologies and vision because this is the way to go.
As Kamuri points out the Internet is not a catch-all mode of communication, neither is it always appropriate. Such rules apply as much to the UK as to Kenya. Will the right publics access the website, do they have unfettered access, and will they use the Internet to gain political information are questions that need to be asked; then in designing the web presence it is important to consider the actual purpose, fundraising, interacting, building an image etc. Too much currently appears to try to be all things to all visitors but missing on all bases. As the Internet increases in importance as a communication tool, the strategy must also increase in sophistication.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Brown goes interactive

Visiting Gordon Brown's campaign website I was unsure what to expect. Well actually it is quite impressive and follows a variety of the rules of 'best practice' for a 'sticky' website. In other words it has the pull factor and would attract visitors back. Visitors can select the topics that should be prioritised in discussion, there is a team blog,though Oona King is the only poster so far, there are videos of Gordon's tour and photos. And you can have his news fed directly to your website or desktop (see on the sidebar). Highly professional, very up-to-date, clearly designed to project the 'New Gordon' image as part of his branding strategy. Definitely designed more for public consumption than to gain support among party members. But that is Gordon's battle if the BBC New's forum contibutions on 'Would Gordon Brown be the right choice?' are in any way representative. It seems he is pursuing public support in every way possible.

The ficklest of masters

Blair's popularity over his 10 years, as measured by Ipsos Mori, tells an interesting story of dips and troughs and the expected long term decline that every prime minister would receive. But does this mean anything? Apart from support for a leader seems to increase in both times of crisis and triumph, not a lot on its own. It only means anything when compared to expected satisfaction under the competition. Clearly in 2001 and 2005 Blair may not have scored 50% in the satisfaction ratings but he was liked more than the alternative. Interesting that his lowest score came days before his departure, not post Hutton or the Fuel Tax protests, it shows that perceptions are cumulative and no one event can turn public opinion, it is a tide that leaders surf.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Brown for Britain?

While the contenders for deputy tout themselves to their elected colleagues, Brown appears to be conducting a presidential campaign for the hearts and minds of the nation. Brown for Britain is not the slogan one would expect for a leadership campaign; equally touring marginal seats is synonymous with the technocratic, profit-oriented campaigning tactics of general elections; so is the strong focus on communicating via the mass media. So whose support is Brown trying to win. It would seem that it is the ordinary voters; possibly because he expects no serious competition in the contest to become Labour leader and hence Prime Minister.

Like Brown, Blair was touted to be leader by the media almost immediately after the untimely death of John Smith, and polls seemed to echo the media affection for Blair, though public opinion may simply have been driven by the media; however Blair used the media to full effect to drive home firstly victory within the party then in the country. This seems a stark contrast to the mixed approach of party first then nation via mass media that recent Conservative leadership contests have taken.

Brown clearly sees this contest as one where he can command centre stage and which could be used as a springboard for an general election victory, but can he succeed in the same way that Blair did? Is the Brown brand the right offering for the UK electorate? Can he sell himself during this campaign to convince the public that Brown is right for Britain? Clearly this is the intention as strategists within the Labour party continue to deliver a highly marketised, mass media focused campaign whether it is the right tactic or not. It may be deemed professional, but the real test is success short term in Sunday's polls and long term looking towards 2010 as the last possible date for the ultimate test of Brown as leader.

Dont forget John

In the furore of Blair's departure, most forgot that John Prescott also gave a few words about his departure, the longest serving Deputy PM, once a man with vast responsibilities; what did he have to say as he announced to his constituency that he would be stepping down?
Well lots on Hull, obviously,but there seems to only have been one achievement he wanted to highlight to point his audience:

"I produced the pamphlet, an “Alternative Regional Strategy” which set out the case for decentralisation, which has been implemented by this government. The pamphlets “Planning for Full Employment” and “Real Needs – Local Jobs” set out the case for full employment. Later I produced a further one, “Jobs and Social Justice” which made clear that economic prosperity and social justice were achievable, that they are two sides of the same coin, again demonstrated by this Labour government. On transport, I produced pamphlets called “Moving Britain into the 1990s” and “Moving Britain into Europe”, which respectively set out the case for a huge increase in investment..."

Maybe he was the fast breeder reactor of big ideas, but interesting that so little was said about Transport, the Environment, the Regions, those things he was responsible for for almost ten years. A sad admission that the only achievement that came to mind was the writing of pamphlets, but perhaps honest at least. The one thing that seemed striking about Prescott was he was the one member of the Labour Cabinet that was totally un-obsessed with his image; kind of refreshing in this age of mediatisation. But how will he be remembered, perhaps it is obvious:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Not with a whimper

It seemed clear Tony Blair's intention of having a long goodbye and staging his farewell was designed to leave a lasting impression, his years have been characterised by placing comunication as central to political governance; his departure reflected that. In fact his government even attempted to bury a bit of bad news as he went!

But what did he have to say? He thanked friends and family, he talked about society, but then listed the things he wanted in his political epitaph:

There is only one government since 1945 that can say all of the following: more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results, lower crime and economic growth in every quarter. Only one government. This one... Look at the British economy: at ease with globalisation... No country attracts overseas investment like we do... [Values] the minimum wage. Paid holidays as a right. Amongst the best maternity pay and leave today in Europe. Equality for gay people... Or the global movement to support Africa in its struggle against poverty. Climate change, the fight against terrorism. Britain is not a follower today - Britain is a leader... comfortable in the twenty-first century. At home in its own skin, able not just to be proud of its past but also confident of its future. You know I don't think Northern Ireland would have been changed unless Britain had changed. Or the Olympics won if we were still the Britain of 1997.

So that is his record, but what of him?

In Government you have to give the answer, not an answer, the answer... Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong, that's your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country.

There you have it, a potted version, the soundbites perhaps, but a skilled piece of political communication designed to position Blair as the man who brought Britian into the 21st century and leaves a country vastly different from the one he inherited 10 years and a few days ago. Rhetoric, a fair appraisal, self-justification, passionate and personal; you decide the purpose of the speech and its style and language. Whatever, history will probably remember that, unless somethign remarkable happens in the next six weeks, that Blair bowed out with a bang and not a whimper.

Teflon or Velcro

In an interesting article Bruce Newman made the distinction between Teflon and Velcro candidates, to the Teflon candidates nothing bad sticks (think here of Ronald Reagan the so-called Teflon President); alternatively the Velcro candidate is unable to shake off anything negative. Sure its perceptual, and it often relates to the perceived character of the individual, but it is said to be a definer in American presidential races.

Re-reading this made me think that while the contrast is interesting within a campaign, the transition from one to the other may also occur during a political career. Maybe the apocryphal saying that 'All political careers end in failure is correct', consider that of Tony Blair. In the 1997-2000 period nothing stuck to him. Mandelson was demonised for a variety of reasons, often he took the blame for spin despite the fact that Blair employed him as Minister without Portfolio to be de facto Minister for Spin. But Blair was treated as untouchable, the Sun article that accompanies the front page (right) sees Mandelson as the evil within Labour, with his departure all would be well. Then the tide turned, since 2001 incrementally Blair has become more and more like Velcro; every bit of detritus associated with his period of office has become attached to him independent of whether it was directly his responsibility or not. Hence his persona shifted, from blameless to blame-full. This seems set to continue until 27th June, especially perhaps if Brown has his way as he does not want to be too much like Velcro himself, and perhaps it is the negatives that will remain as his legacy, unfair or not. The reason is that he is perceived negatively, therefore it is easy to attach further negatives to him, humans like to balance their beliefs and attitudes!

By the way the BBC seem to have already written his obituary, a warm and friendly review that seems to be the complete obvious to Nick Robinson's assessment of the Blair years.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

High quality debate - the main event

Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) are the most televised bit of parliamentary activity, not because great policies are debated and determined, purely because it is the spectacle of verbal jousting between the party leaders and the contest of who will win as the champion of the acid barb.
The last PMQs before Blair announces his departure timetable saw Cameron not question the future of the country but to attack the government calling it "the government of the living dead" while Blair responded to Letwin's assessment of the post Marxist world with "That will be Groucho", obviously a few economics lessons wasted there then.

The great problem is that the media focus upon the small element of parliamentary debates gives the perception of the House of Commons as a schoolyard where verbal bullying is the order of the day and nothing of any importance happens; good soap opera, poor politics. A shame as not all politics is like this, important things such as Council Tax and Climate Change were debated earlier this morning, but apart from the anoraks who watch the parliament channel (mine has a hood by the way) this goes unseen. So politicians look silly, and act like children at times, and the media gives the spectacle air-time, the audience looks on, tuts and maybe talk about the real issues.

The party's choice?

It seems that the real contest within the Labour Party is not who will replace Blair, but who will will replace Prescott. With those the media call the 'credible candidates' stepping aside to crown Brown, it seems we know who the next PM will be. The Deputy however is highly contested with many of the candidates creating second lives on MySpace and Facebook and setting up campaign centres reminiscent of candidates for the US presidency (but of course on a small scale).

There is a front runner however. Polls indicate Hilary Benn has a lead of anything between 9 and 20 percentage points from his closest rival Alan Johnson. Why might this be. Hilary is the son of perhaps the most famous Labour politician never to become leader, and a man who commands respect within the movement; however Hilary is not the ideological descendant of Tony, he represents a far more pragmatic, modern and dare we say Blairite approach to left wing politics. But that does not mean he is the slavish follower of all things Blairite, he has criticised the war and the government's record on Third World Poverty during his time raising the profile of the Department for International Development; he also claims to be in touch with the grass roots of his Leeds constituency and the party itself. Perhaps this positions him as the right man for the job among party members.

Hilary Benn has also made use of e-communications. He has a blog format website, a campaign website full of credible endorsements, a Facebook profile, though his MySpace page seems to have never quite seemed worth the effort. However the important aspect to the web presence seems his underlying philosophy, he states:

"I want to be your voice as Deputy Leader because I believe we need a more open and more straightforward kind of politics that really listens. Over the coming weeks, I'll be adding lots of interactive features to this site to help you as members and activists say what you think. I hope you will find it makes getting in touch directly with me, and with other supporters in your community and local party to debate our future, that little bit easier"

Rhetoric many may cry, and perhaps it can appear this way and may be proven to be empty long term. However, in the run up to the contest he is being interactive. This creates a pull factor to his sites and may be partially responsible for building and maintaining the momentum behind his campaign. Possibly, however, the fact that he is using the site to interact, something that could be described as best practice for e-political communication, reflects his personal philosophy. Many of those whose votes he is fighting for may well have had contact with him, recognise that the desire to listen is not empty rhetoric and hence the sites become an extension of the man rather than purely a vote winning tool. Yes, there are a lot of 'perhaps' here; but at present it seems to be having an effect.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

No surprises!

The local and regional elections offered few substantive surprises. Blair got a drubbing but said it could have been worse; Cameron says he is on the threshold of an election victory; the Liberal Democrats wonder if a change of leader was a good idea; Labour consistently agree that a change of leader is necessary and immediate. But what about those local contests?

Stockport's slogan seemed to work, well on paper anyway, they actually witnessed a minor increase in turnout, the same cannot be said for the Council Tax Band in Wealden, turnout was down 1% overall despite their busking for votes.

However Wealden's 38.5% turnout can only be dreamed of in other areas. The blogging Conservatives of Forest Heath all retained their seats. Lisa Chambers was unopposed however and turnout in All Saints was 25.1%: it seems that a general lack of a contest depressed interest and may be the underlying reason for the lack of engagement online as well as a lack of a pull factor.

Elsewhere candidates who may have presented an alternative style of selling point seem to have been less than successful. Wan Saiful Wan Jan was not one of the successful Conservatives in Limbury, Luton. Neither was the perhaps unique Sarah Jane Newbury who gained only 344 votes, a whole two hundred short of the number required for election.

So were there any surprises? Well the Scottish count was a disaster, someone may have been trying to repeat the successes and failures of the Birmingham vote riggers on a less sophisticated scale in Peterborough; all this seems a little surprising in the nation that claims to have invented democracy. Also it seems that celebrity cannot overcome politics, former Blur drummer Dave Rowntree came third for Labour in Marylebone despite his star status and the media attention he received.
Finally, Sarko did it in France, the big surprise and contrast with all the above; turnout was over 85% - was choice the big motivating factor, or that a vote meant something. In my humble opinion UK election turnout is a factor of the contests as commented already on posts and comments, unless we solve that problem why should the other 68-75% bother? The gimmicks had little impression it seems, but choice seems to!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mmmm, choices, choices

Newbury's question the council candidates continues to thrive, yesterdays question was from Julian Waghorn, a 61-year-old retired financial analyst, and asked “What is your policy on council tax? Will you keep it tagged to inflation or below? And how do we know you will stick to your promise"; so what were the diverse answers?

Emma Webster (Conservative) “Our pledge is to keep council tax at or below inflation and our track record of delivery over the last two years demonstrates our commitment to this pledge.”

Denise Gaines (Liberal Democrats) “We are going to keep it at or below inflation for the four years. We are promising to do it and we keep our promises."

Grahame Murphy (Labour) “We would try to give best value for money, but not make any promises about reducing it"

Spot the difference? Me neither! Given that Newbury is currently a close contest between the Conservatives representing 27 wards and the Liberal Democrats representing 24, where is the choice here? If council tax is the the key issue for a voter like Mr Waghorn, and gaining a choice over the future cost of living in Newbury is a motivating factor for voting, what is the point? What happened to the Liberal Democrat council tax reform, was it edited out or has it been scrapped? Why is this down to a simple, far too similar, set of answers; but if we offer incentives more might vote - I remain sceptical on this evidence!
I am sad (well sort of) that I will be in Prague and not enjoying the excitement that is results night, though apparently results night could be elongated and a drawn out event due to the various new methods of voting and the long process of counting and verifying postal votes. Wouldn't it be great if there was a record turnout, a nation-wide excitement about the result, but it will not happen - why is that? Next post on Monday, when we know the result, how will all the gimmicks to improve turnout have worked? Well I find it interesting!